World War I was a global conflict fought between the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria; and the Allies which was a coalition of many nations, most prominently the Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan and Italy. It began on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. The immediate events leading to World War I were the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptive heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and the July Crisis. 1914, the first of four years of WW1, saw many important events. Germany had great success in its initial campaigns but was stopped in its planned invasion of Paris by the Allies; while Austria-Hungary was defeated in its Serbian campaign. Moreover, war began in Africa with the invasion of Togoland by Britain and France; and in Asia with the declaration of war by Japan on Germany. Here are all the major events of World War I which took place in 1914.

 

#1 Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo

Date: June 28, 1914

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptive heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had traveled to Bosnia, to inspect the imperial armed forces in June of 1914. For almost a decade now Serbia backed by Russia was more and more hostile towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There was rise in nationalism among Serbians, both in Serbia and in Austria Hungary. The annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austro-Hungary in 1908 further angered the Serbian nationalists, who wanted the territories to be part of Serbia. Franz Ferdinand was an advocate of increased federalism and wanted to reorganize the Empire by combining the Slavic lands into a third crown. Any such reform would have been a blow to proSerbian nationalism.

Beltrame's Illustration of the assassination
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as illustrated by Achille Beltrame

On 28th June 1914, while visiting the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the Archduke was assassinated along with his wife Sophie by a 19-year-old Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip. The plan had included 6 members and had support of the “Black Hand”, a secret society with connections in the Serb army. The event may not have upset most people, but it was the falling of the first domino in the delicate political environment of Europe that would lead to the First World War.

“I am not a criminal, because I destroyed that which was evil. I think that I am good.”

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip
Gavrilo Princip was one of the six assassins

#2 July Crisis

Date: July 1914

The assassination of the Archduke on the 28th of June, 1914 kicked up a diplomatic storm in Europe which is known as the July Crisis. The Austro-Hungarian leadership had long considered movements of the South Slavs promoted by Serbia, to be a threat to the unity of their nation. The assassination gave them an opportunity to use military force to settle their score while negotiating on the diplomatic front. The major roadblock in their way was the Russian Empire which was a known supporter of Serbia and the pan-Slavic movements in the Balkans. A debate was held between 29th June and 1st July of 1914 in the Austro-Hungarian capital of Vienna to decide on the course of action. The fear that war with Serbia would invite a war with Russia meant that Austria Hungary needed reassurance from their ally Germany.

World War 1 July Crisis
Sequence of events in the July Crisis

Numerous letters were exchanged and meetings were held in Germany and Austria-Hungary in early July which may underline a few points. Austria Hungary had been considering a military campaign against Serbia prior to the assassination in Sarajevo as Serbia was identified as the primary threat that may have disintegrated the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Also, Germany was confident of its military strength in case of a war with Russia and France together, and Germans were in favor of quick action against Serbia as a strategic advantage, if Russia decided to enter the war. Germany thus gave its full support to Austria Hungary, with the German Emperor Wilhelm II promising “Germany’s full support” even if “grave European complications” ensued. This “blank cheque” given by the Germans would be the determining factor to how Austria-Hungary would proceed in the immediate future.

German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II
German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II – Who promised full support to Austria-Hungary

The 7th July Council of Ministers in Austria Hungary agreed on placing demands on Serbia before military mobilization and decided to co-ordinate diplomatic action to justify a war against Serbia. In a few days as a diplomatic maneuver, it was decided that Serbia would be presented with an ultimatum with unacceptable terms. While the Germans prompted quick action, the Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army presented another complication on the 14th of July. The General desired to firstly stock the summer harvest, which meant that the earliest that Austria could declare war was July 25. Moreover, the French President and Premier were to visit Russia between July 20–23, and it was considered undesirable to present the ultimatum until the visit was over. The July Ultimatum was finally delivered on the 23rd of July which consisted what most would consider as harsh terms. Serbia was given 48 hours to comply. The same day British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey offered to mediate to broker for peace, but he was soon rejected. The Serbian reply was unexpected as it agreed to most points on the ultimatum, but even this was not acceptable to Austria Hungary.

“A great moral success for Vienna, but with it all reason for war is gone… I would never have recommended mobilization on this basis!”

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, on reading a copy of the Serbian reply on July 28, 1914

Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia report
Newpaper report on Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia

 

#3 World War I Begins

Date: July 28, 1914

The July Crisis grew as the countries started to mobilize their forces, and various diplomatic efforts were made across Europe to localize or avoid war. Edward Grey suggested that Germany must ask Austria to accept the Serbian reply to the ultimatum as satisfactory. The French and Russian ambassadors proposed direct talks between Belgrade and Vienna, and efforts were made by Germany to keep Britain neutral. Russians advised Serbia to accept as many conditions in the ultimatum as possible and German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm proposed the stop in Belgrade offer; a temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade to ensure that they keep the promises they agreed to in the July Ultimatum. These efforts, however, would prove futile.

A month after the assassination in Sarajevo, Austria declared war on Serbia at 11 am on the 28th of July, 1914. The first blows were exchanged when the Serbians blew the railway bridge connecting the two countries and Austrian river patrolling ship SMS Bodrog, bombed the city of Belgrade. A day later Russia stared to mobilize against Austria Hungary which brought into play the alliance system that had shaped over the decades in Europe, and in a few days all the Great Powers of Europe, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were pulled into war.

SMS Bodrog
Austro-Hungarian river monitor SMS Bodrog – Which fired the first shots of World War I

 

#4 Germany invades Belgium, Britain enters WW1

Date: August 4, 1914,

German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen
German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen – Mastermind behind the Schlieffen Plan

War with France and Russia on two fronts had been a realistic challenge for the Germans in the pre-World War I era. The German Field Marshall (1891-1906) Alfred von Schlieffen thus developed a strategic course of action in case of such a scenario. The Schlieffen Plan aimed at ending the French threat in a quick decisive conflict so that forces could be transferred quickly to the eastern front to combat the much larger Russian army. Understanding that forcing the French from their frontier fortifications would be a slow and costly process, Schlieffen had suggested a flanking movement through invasions of Luxembourg and Belgium. The German positions of Alsace Lorraine were deliberately left weak to entice the French, and the German forces were to encircle Paris and trap the French against the Swiss border.

This plan would form the basis of Germany’s first offensive in WWI. On August 2nd, 1914, Germany annexed Luxemburg and two days later on 4th August, Belgium was invaded. Belgium had reminded its allies of the 75 years old Treaty of London, in which the country had promised neutrality in exchange for protection from the Great Powers including Germany. The treaty prompted the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, along with its vast colonies, to enter WW1 at midnight the same day.

 

#5 Invasion of Togoland by Britain and France, WW1 begins in Africa

Date: August 6, 1914

Togoland in Africa was a German colony since 1884. It had Allied neighbors in French Dahomey in the north and east; and the British Gold Coast to the west. On 5th August, a day after Britain declared war on Germany and two days after Germany declared war on France, the acting Governor of Togoland, contacted both his British and French compatriots. The Governor invoked the Congo Act (aka Berlin Conference of 1884-85) which stated that colonies in the Congo Basin were to remain neutral in the event of a conflict in Europe. His appeal was however rejected and the French and British cooperated to launch an offensive on the Germans. German forces withdrew from the capital Lomé and the coastal province to Kamina, which has the vital wireless transmitter Kamina Funkstation. It provided communications for German ships in the Atlantic and was a link between the government in Berlin and Togoland. There was long resistance in the battles of Agbeluvhoe and Chra, but the Germans finally surrendered the colony on 26th August, 1914. The transmitter was destroyed so that it wouldn’t fall into the Allies’ hands.

British troops in Togoland, 1914
British troops on parade in Togoland, 1914

 

#6 Germany’s early success on both fronts

Date: August 7 – September 13, 1914

In the August of 1914, the Germans were progressing well. On the western front they engaged with the Allies (Belgium, France and Britain) in a series of engagements termed as the Battle of Frontiers. The Germans successfully invaded Belgium but were slowed down till the 16th of August, when the last fort fell. The German deployment plan (Aufmarsch II, Schlieffen) by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger involved wheeling through Belgium and attacking the French in the rear.

Belgian troops in the Battle of the Frontiers
Belgian troops photographed during the Battle of the Frontiers

The Germans advanced into France defeating the French Fifth Army in the Battle of Charleroi (21 – 23 August) and the Britain’s Expeditionary Force at Battle of Mons (23rd August) in Belgium. This led to a long, fighting withdrawal of the French and British forces south towards Paris. Counterattacks against the Germans were fought at Le Cateau (August 26-27) and St. Quentin (August 29-30), but they were unsuccessful. The French Plan XVII, a “scheme of mobilization and concentration”, under Commander in Chief Joseph Joffre had largely failed and Paris was under threat.

French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre
French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre – Man behind Plan XVII

Germany had deployed only a small portion of its forces on the eastern front, estimating that it would take a long time for Russia to mobilize. Although an accurate presumption, Russia had two-fifths of its peacetime army located around Warsaw which was immediately available for action. These armies invaded German East Prussia in late August 1914. The Battle of Tannenberg was a highly successful battle for the Germans despite their lesser numbers as they destroyed the Russian Second Army. Thus a month into the war the German plans were on the right track.

Russian prisoners of war after the Battle of Tannenberg
Russian prisoners of war after the Battle of Tannenberg

 

#7 Austria-Hungary stumbles in its Serbia Campaign

Date: August 15 – December 1914

With a declaration of war on Serbia, Austria Hungary had initiated WW1. A few weeks later, on August 12, Austro Hungarian V Army crossed the northern border of Bosnia. On 15th August they encountered the Serbian 1st Combined Division leading to the Battle of Cer on the slopes of the Cer Mountain. The fierce four day battle is marked by many as the first Allied victory in WW1 with the Austro Hungarians being forced to retreat after suffering heavy losses.

 

Austrians invade Serbia in 1914
Depiction of Austrians entering Belgrade, Serbia on Dec 2, 1914

The Austro Hungarians would launch more offensives in the coming weeks, most notably that of 5th November 1914, which forced the Serbians into a deep retreat abandoning their capital city of Belgrade. This Battle of Kolubara ended with the Serbian counter attack on the 3rd December, forcing the Austro Hungarians to retreat into their own territory. Belgrade was recaptured on December 15. Serbia’s defeat of the Austro-Hungarian invasion of 1914 has been called one of the major upset victories of the 20th century.

Serbian soldiers in WW1
Serbian soldiers in Belgrade after it was recaptured

 

#8 Japan declares war on Germany, WW1 begins in Asia

Date: August 23, 1914

The port of Tsingtao in China was the home base of German Navy’s East Asia Squadron. In 1897, China had been forced to lease the areas around the present day Shandong to the Germans for 99 years. Germany had since built the city and port of Tsingtao as a major trading destination and as a naval post with close to 4000 troops stationed thereJapan had formed close diplomatic relations with Britain with the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance to deter Russia and to further its own imperial ambitions. As the First World War broke out, Japan was quick to honor her alliance and gain a foothold in China by acquiring Tsingtao. On 15th of August, 1914, Japan issued an ultimatum to Germany, asking it to withdraw its warships from Chinese and Japanese waters; and transfer control of Tsingtao to Japan. The warning was ignored and on 23rd August, Japan declared war on Germany.

Japan's war declaration on Germany report
Newpaper report on Japan’s war declaration on Germany

The siege took place between October 31 and November 7, 1914, ending in a German defeat. With 23,000 Japanese soldiers and 1500 British troops it was the first AngloJapanese offensive of the war. Japan would go on to take over German colonies in the Caroline, Mariana and Marshall Islands. Later in the war, Japan would send warships to help protect Allied shipping in Europe.

 

#9 Allies stop the German Invasion of Paris

Date: September 6 – 10, 1914

In early September of 1914, German army had advanced deep into north-eastern France, defeating Belgian, French and British forces to reach within 30 miles of Paris. The allied forces were exhausted having retreated continuously for 10-12 days under repeated German attack. They regrouped on the south of the River Marne under the French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre. The Commander prepared to make a stand to defend Paris and a counter offensive was planned on the 4th of September. French Sixth Army was ordered to attack the right flank of the German First Army in an action beginning on the morning of 6th September. This vital offensive would be called the First Battle of the Marne.

German soldiers at the First Battle of the Marne
German soldiers on the front line at the First Battle of the Marne

On the German front, the First and Second Armies under Alexander von Kluck and Karl von Bulow respectively, were tasked with sweeping to the west of Paris and encircling the Allies. An error was made as Von Kluck began to wheel his First Army west to meet the threat posed by French Sixth Army. This opened a 30-mile gap between the First and Second German Armies. The French Fifth Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were quick to exploit this opportunity and by the 9th of September, the German First and Second Armies were threatened with encirclement and destruction. Due to this, German Commander Helmuth von Molte ordered retreat to a defensive position behind Aisne River and thus the Battle of Marne ended on September 12. This battle was a major strategic defeat of the Germans and marked the end of the Schlieffen plan; which was to swiftly end the battle on the western front.

French forces at the First Battle of the Marne
French forces at the First Battle of the Marne

 

#10 Indian Army joins WW1

Date: October, 1914

In 1914, as the Great War broke out in Europe, many shared the view that if Britain got involved in a crisis, Indian separatists would use this as an opportunity to advance their cause. However, these fears were unfounded and the Indian political leadership primarily under Indian National Congress and the Rulers of Princely states largely supported the British cause in World War I. The nationalists had widely understood from British statements that at the end of the war in return for their cooperation, India would receive Dominion Status and Self Home Rule.

Indian troops in the First World War
Indian troops on the Western Front of the First World War

At the Battle of La Bassee and Battle of Ypres in October, 1914 in northern France, Indian soldiers joined the Allies for the first time. Over the course of the war, 1,300,000 of them would serve overseas in places as diverse as France and Belgium, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli, Palestine and Sinai. As many as 74,187 Indian soldiers died during the war and a comparable number were wounded. Moreover, more than $20 billion (adjusted to 2018), 3.7 million tons of supplies and 1,700,000 animals left Indian shores to contribute to the war effort.

“Britain couldn’t have come through the wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”

Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army

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